Whisky gifts for Dad this Father’s Day

June 11, 2014, Article by Beau Merchant in Books, Food

Father’s Day is just a few days away, so what better to get the old man than a delicious bottle of the golden liquid to warm his heart?

Ian Buxton, author of the best-selling 101 WHISKIES TO TRY BEFORE YOU DIE and the follow-up 101 WORLD WHISKIES TO TRY BEFORE YOU DIE has chosen 3 top tipples that are guaranteed to make your father’s day. (Or just buy him the books so he can choose his own).
The below whiskies are taken from Ian’s 101 LEGENDARY WHISKIES YOU’RE DYING TO TRY BUT (POSSIBLY) NEVER WILL, which is published in August.

green spot

Green Spot (Ireland)

This is a living legend – a coelacanth of whisky. Let’s salute Mitchell’s of Dublin, a traditional wine merchant of the old school who, when all others had abandoned the pot still legacy of Irish whiskey, kept the flame burning. A flickering flame, it’s true, because at the nadir of its fortunes a mere 500 cases a year were being produced and there remained a constant threat that Irish Distillers would decide that such tiny volumes were not worth the effort, especially considering the scale of their Midleton distillery operations.

Fortunately a small but well-informed group of enthusiasts continued to buy this wonderful whiskey from Mitchell’s, despite packaging that until its recent revamp was decidedly downbeat (pay attention marketing types: this suggests that some people do at least care more about what’s in the bottle than how it looks on the shelf). This was the last of an all-but-forgotten style – the merchant’s bottling. At one time, most independent wine and spirit merchants would have had their own whiskey – with the slow demise of Irish whiskey that continued until very recently, almost all of these had been lost. Even Mitchell’s had trimmed the range from Blue, Red and Yellow Spot to just the Green.

And then its fortunes changed. Irish Distillers (IDL), sensing the success of their Redbreast brand and seeing the interest and growing sales of single malt Scotch, determined that Irish pot still whiskey was overdue a revival. So, to the acclaim of whiskey lovers, they worked with Mitchell’s to re-launch Yellow Spot in May 2012 as a 12-year-old and gave both styles a packaging makeover. I’ll grudgingly admit that it looks rather smart.

Along with this, IDL have launched their own revivalist pot still whiskies such as the Power’s John’s Lane Edition and added a 21-year-old to Redbreast. Irish distilling is generally storming back into life and once again representing real competition in global whisky markets. And a good thing it is, too.

If you visit Dublin, you should try and visit Mitchell’s and buy your bottle there. It’s more widely available than ever and growing in popularity, but it is only fitting that – if you can – you go to the source and reward their patience and persistence.
Just to whet your appetite a little, I’d describe this as a very distinctive whiskey with a lovely waxy, oily, mouth-coating impact. The nose suggests greengage jam and the taste gives honey, mint, cloves, wood notes and lots of spice.


Highland Park (Scotland)

I have a very great fondness for Orkney and for Highland Park. It’s one of my favourite distilleries and a whisky that I love for its apparent ability to fit appropriately into almost any occasion.

All the range is good but if you feel like splashing some serious cash then there are two 50-year-old expressions available to you. The first was distilled in 1902 (imagine that!) and was bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd in 1952. The second was released by the distillery itself in 2010.

Technically, the BB&R bottling is not legally whisky, as bottles were tested by Oxford University and shown to be very slightly under-strength at 39.8% abv*. I wouldn’t turn it down on those grounds, though. The 2010 release comes in at 44.8%, so that’s all right then.
Comparing the two bottles (the bottles, not the contents) tells you something about how whisky has changed in the last 60 years. The 1952 bottling is in, well, a standard tall round bottle with a paper label. And that’s it.

The latest release, however, comes in a special bottle, itself encased in a filigree of silver created by Scottish artist Maeve Gillies, designed to remind you of strands of seaweed. It is then placed in a custom-made oak box with a porthole through which you glimpse the bottle. If you drink enough of the whisky (and what’s stopping you tearing right into it?) you will glimpse a rose window design on the rear of the sandstone Highland Park logo.

All this comes at a cost, though. While you can still find the last few of the Berry Bros.’ bottles in specialists at around £7,500, the ‘new’ 50 Years Old was launched at £10,000 and has appreciated since.
If you can’t find a bottle, you’ll have to wait until 2014 for the next release.

All this is wonderful stuff and Highland Park is truly a very special and wonderful place. I do have one slight concern, however, and that is the number and pace of recent ‘collectable’ releases. It would be easy to overestimate the demand for this type of thing and – it may just be me – the latest editions based on Norse Gods seem a trifle contrived. Probably is me; they seem to sell we’ll enough.

They aren’t Gods but, back in 1883, the King of Denmark and his pal the Russian Emperor determined Highland Park’s whisky ‘the finest they had ever tasted’. Who am I to disagree?

Yamazaki (Japan)

Yamazaki 12 Years Old was the first Japanese single malt of any international significance. Based on its success, the company has gone on to release a considerable range of single malts and blends (notably the multi-award-winning Hibiki).

But should Shinjiro Torii or Masataka Taketsuru be considered as the father of Japanese whisky? Both have their claims, though Taketsuru is probably the stronger candidate. There had been earlier attempts to manufacture whisky in Japan but Taketsuru travelled to Scotland in 1918, studied briefly in Glasgow and obtained practical experience at Longmorn, Bo’ness and Hazelburn distilleries before returning home. It had been intended that he would start a Scotch-whisky-style distillery in Japan but these plans failed to materialise and he joined Shinjiro Torii in 1922.

Torii had prospered during WW1 and was equally determined to produce a high-quality whisky, so hired Taketsuru on generous terms with the aim of establishing a distillery on the Scottish model. This was opened at Yamazaki in November 1924 and is generally considered the first Japanese whisky distillery – perhaps predictably, Suntory tend to credit Torii with the choice of the site, while other commentators give the more experienced Taketsuru the credit. Today it is probably the best-known of the Japanese distilleries here in the West and its whiskies can be found in most specialists and even some supermarkets.

Together they launched the first recognised Japanese whisky, Shirofuda (White Label), but they parted company in 1934 when Taketsuru resigned to start his own operation at what became the Yoichi distillery. Today the two firms they created, Suntory and Nikka, are the dominant players in Japanese whisky.

Understandably, the firm’s website tends to play down Masataka Taketsuru’s role in the creation of Yamazaki and the birth of Japanese whisky, in favour of their own man Shinjiro Torii, but my feeling is that they deserve joint billing as whisky legends. Their creation, after a faltering start, has gone on to well-deserved international renown. Indeed Suntory have a powerful presence in Scotch whisky through their ownership of Morrison Bowmore (several of whose whiskies appear here) and they are a global force in whisky today.*

I think we can salute Yamazaki 12 Years Old as a legend in its own right and a symbol of Japanese whisky’s new-found confidence.